Call for more Arabic content on the internet

Arabic is the eighth most used language on the internet - ahead of French, Russian and Korean. Despite this, and a high number of internet users in the region, experts still say there is a lack of quality web content in Arabic.

ABU DHABI // The internet needs more quality content in Arabic for the 141 million users who speak the language.

Forty per cent of people in the Middle East have internet access, 87 per cent of them at home, and Arabic is the eighth most used language, according to Google figures.

Half the population is under 25, the prime age group for internet use on phones and tablets, but only 3 per cent of Arabic online content is available to the public. This suggests most of it has been user-generated in private forums and social media or copied and translated from other languages.

“About 97 per cent of users in Saudi Arabia and Egypt prefer to browse content in Arabic,” says Dr Fayeq Oweis, head of localisation services at Google in Dubai.

“There is a clear need for such content and content creators should take advantage of that.”

Sami Al Mubarak, co-founder of Taghreedat, the Arabic digital content initiative based in the Twofour54 media zone in Abu Dhabi, said Arabic could no longer be an afterthought if creators wanted to maintain market share for their content or apps.

“But that isn’t to say there is no participation and adoption of Arabic content online,” he said.

“People began by writing in English or they used Arabizi [Arabic represented by English letters and numbers],” said Mr Al Mubarak.

“But now they are using Arabic keyboards and participating and collaborating in Arabic projects. This is our indicator of the increase in Arabic content.

“We see a big change in the way organisations are looking at digital Arabic content. We began with chasing brands and explaining to them the importance of Arabic. Now we have them approach us to localise and Arabise the tools.”

Taghreedat contacted Twitter in 2012 to provide Arabic for the social networking site at a time where there was no support.

“We sent out a call to action for translators and within a month ended up with 2,500 for the project,” said Mr Al Mubarak.

“That was our measure about the passion among Arabic users.”

They initiated several other projects, including translating Storify, TED, WhatsApp and Easy Chirp.

Despite this, there are issues facing the Arabic online community.

Mr Al Mubarak says although investors are more conducive to such projects now, they are still treated with caution.

“It seems like there is not enough Arabic talent or Arabic content projects available, but the fact is there aren’t enough resources to run a business,” he said.

“There isn’t much support for creative talent: someone who makes short videos or infographics. It isn’t looked at as a business proposal but just as talent.”

Google’s tools and applications – such as Gmail, Search, YouTube, Maps, Android and Google+ – are available in Arabic.

“Something as simple as using the directions and navigation feature on Google Maps can make a big difference in enhancing people’s everyday life,” said Dr Oweis.

But he says there continues to be a lack of standardisation in Arabic terminology and technical terms, which is creating hurdles in developing content.

“The use of Arabizi in social media is still prevalent,” Dr Oweis says.

“There is also a lack of official and educational support in generating Arabic content.”

But he does predict a huge growth in Arabic websites, “especially in education and e-learning”.

“Channels like Durosi in the UAE and crowd sourced-based channels Nafham and Cairo Dar in Egypt are key examples that the further demand for seeking high-premium quality content on the web is near.”

Published: July 30, 2014 04:00 AM


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